Nelson Roofing and Sheet Metal Ltd.

West Coast Canada’s Premier Roofers
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Victor Martins

Russ and Sharon Nelson originally founded Nelson Roofing in 1980 as a small, family roofing business. In 1999 Russ’ son, Lyle, purchased the company, renaming it Nelson Roofing & Sheet Metal Ltd. (NRSM) before incorporating the business’ sheet metal capabilities due to its purchase of Cam Air Systems in 2007. Lyle and his team continue the commitment to quality and innovation in products, service and performance. Today the team, which ranges from 150 to 200 employees seasonally, provides leading roof installations and retrofits to customers all over western Canada and occasionally beyond.

Chris Smith, project manager for NRSM, has been with the business for eight years. “A lot of our business is repeat clients,” Smith explains. “This business is all about keeping customers happy and that is what we believe in. We are only as good as our last job, which is what we tell our team all the time. We are not the cheapest providers in the industry and that means our customers are paying for the extra quality in service that we provide. We are always stressing that to our team and we are always on top of maintaining our relationships with customers.”

Catering to a Broad Market

The NRSM team’s work is concentrated on the West Coast, although Smith notes the crew has been as far east as Nunavut. “We have a pretty broad market,” he explains. “We are not afraid to go after the hard stuff and try new, innovative materials. Our business is fairly large so we have to keep a lot of people working. That means a lot of what we do is pretty mainstream, especially considering our offices are spread out in isolated areas. That gives us an advantage, but also the incentive to keep a broad range of work. Some of the locations we operate in are only accessible by helicopter, barge or water taxi.”

Smith goes on to detail that the company is happy to travel for its clients. “We go up to Yukon and pretty much anywhere on the West Coast,” he continues. “We have been to WhiteHorse, Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert. One thing we excel at is planning. We have good managers to make sure everything gets where it needs to go. With our Nunavut project, we had one barge that left Montreal in the spring to get to the site. If anything wasn’t on that barge when it left, we’d have to fly it all the way out there.”

Innovative Solutions

With the West Coast’s milder climate, the team is able to work year-round in most areas. While there is more of an influx of business in the warmer months, NRSM stays steady all year long. Consistent business allows the team to innovate year-round, as well. The crew has been involved in a variety of unusual projects over the years and Smith notes there has been a steady incline in the use of more environmentally friendly products.

“For the most part we are putting on bitumen roofing,” Smith explains. “That is steady, although the price can fluctuate with market. We have curved roofs here and there, which are interesting and are becoming more common. Our crew is experienced so we are good at doing those.”

Of course, Smith understands that new trends also influence business. “Green roofing is starting to expand in its market share,” he adds. “Especially in urban markets, people like to see grasses and shrubberies on the roof. Right now those projects make up about 20 percent of our work; 10 years ago it was maybe 5 percent. With that you usually have another trade involved in the work that goes on at the top of roofing. It is important to stay coordinated with the other trades, maintaining that there is no unnecessary damage. We also have to prepare for the eventual reroofing, so we work together on the design process. When you are putting earth on a roof you had better make sure you have it figured out first. It’s a very different material.”

Business Developments

Over the years, NRSM has continued to grow, even in the face of international economic hardship. “We certainly saw the slowdown in economy here,” Smith elaborates. “Despite that, throughout those years we grew in size. We even opened another branch in Surrey. Some people complained about the lack of work while we changed focus from new construction to reroofing. Everyone needs a roof, and people would rather retrofit these days than build new. It is a growing market.”

Over the next few years, Smith and the team will be focusing on internal issues. “One of our main concerns is losing employees to oil projects in the north,” he explains. “For us that means we need to make sure we are creating an environment where our employees want to stay. We are probably going to have a lot of family men who will stick it out here. Young, single people are the ones moving north for the big bucks. The key is offering everything we reasonably can to make this a desirable career.”

With the economy bouncing back, the team is ready for takeoff. “We will be developing our existing markets a bit more,” Smith says. “The economy is turning around and I think our area will see a lot more growth in the next few years. We want to make sure that we are ready for it when it comes back.” Nelson Roofing and Sheet Metal Ltd. is well prepared for increasing business and will continue to build lasting relationships across Canada.

For more information about Nelson Roofing and Sheet Metal Ltd., please visit: www.nelsonroofing.com.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Cascadia Metals Ltd.
Convoy Supply Ltd.
Jardine Lloyd Thompson Canada Inc.
Local 276
Sheet Metal Workers Local 280
Slegg Lumber